Personal Branding for MBA Applicants

MBA Admissions Personal Branding Touch PointsYou spent $1500 for the complete Essay Review service; you uploaded the essays 1-week before the deadlines; your recommender endorsed the message that you are mature beyond your age, and has a distinctive understanding of relationships, and group dynamics. The Admissions team is impressed, and they start “Googling your name.” There were four others with your name, but your unique surname made it easy for them to select your blog - an exquisite analysis of life, relationship, economy and technology. The admission team is doubly impressed. They scroll down, and your offensive tweet about a community is indexed just below your LinkedIn profile.

Every interaction with your personal brand, either online or offline are touch points that you have to manage carefully. What works for big brands also works for personal brands. You don’t have to be impersonal while interacting with followers on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook, but remember that your messages are getting archived, for someone in the future to read, and evaluate. Cleaning up social media profiles is just taking care of one touch point. There are eight touch points that you have to manage.

1) Blogs

With the ease and low cost of setting up a website, professionals concerned with controlling their personal brand should start blogging. For a genuine blogger, it is an opportunity to express himself, and when you really want to express on a topic, taking sides is a given, and with that, biases emerge, and MBA Admissions team might misinterpret your bias, based on selective reading. There lies the risk. Preferably, make all those controversial posts private with member-only access (you control the member list). Use the blog to demonstrate your expertise. No certificates, GPA or grades will compensate for your ability to articulate in simple written form.

2) E-Mail

Even with Google Drive’s 15-GB capacity, your emails can bounce if you had subscribed to hundreds of newsletters, groups, and used your mail to back up photos and documents. Even a warning with the message, “the inbox is full,” is bad. If you actively write for your blog, where you share your thoughts on a broad range of topics, and your words have not shown prejudice against any community, race, or religion, you can include the URL of the blog in your email signatures. Add a slogan for your personal brand. If you are not sure, use quotes from a thinker you respect, with the name clearly written. Keep it consistent when you use your email signature. Don’t change the quotes/slogan every month.

Follow email etiquette while communicating with a school representative. Use clear subject line, address with the right salutation, communicate in clear English without rambling on about the question, and send follow-up emails sparsely (preferably – 1-week gap if the question is urgent), or 2-week gap if the email is procedural in nature (follow up during waitlist).

3) Social Media

When you live in a world where posting hundreds of selfies is considered normal, social media amplify this unhealthy self-obsession. Unfortunately, social media has not developed the intelligence to filter content according to your personal brand goals. Even photos tagged by your friends can find its way to search results if you are not careful with the privacy and permission settings. There is nothing wrong with having fun, and going a little overboard with booze, but your admission team does not want to see your red eyes and crazed expressions. Leave those impressions to your close friends. If your rebellious past has paved the way to a soberer ambitious professional, eager to join an MBA program, clean up your social media profiles. Bio in social media reveals how you think about yourself. Carefully craft your bio in 15 words with your personality, values & hobbies encapsulated in the limited space.

4) Info Sessions

MBA Tour and school run info sessions are opportunities for you to research about the program, and ask tough questions, but schools are also observing you as a candidate, although not in an active way. Irreverence for the marketing team or any rudeness can stick out during your candidate evaluation; a chance that you should not take. We recommend that you ask tough questions, but don’t take the info sessions as a ‘stump the admissions team’ session. There will be a few candidates, who attend such sessions to make a point without any intention of joining the program. If you get carried away by such peers and start questioning the veracity of the data provided in the school’s employment report or brochure, you are risking yourself to be categorized under the ‘rebel’ or ‘rude’ candidates. Do that in private with your research.

You might think that the decisions to select you as a candidate are taken collectively, but each school representative can enforce a view if she wishes to persist. A casual conversation about your rudeness near the water cooler can spread like a wildfire, and tarnish your image. Ask tough questions but be respectful of each school representatives.

5) Resume

You gave a peek into your written communication through emails. A resume is your next written communication. It is the only document that is used by the admission team during all the phase of the admission process: info sessions, essays, interview, and funding. The standard MBA Admission resume is 1-page in length, with your key personality traits and achievements highlighted.

When you think about creating a personal branding strategy, start with the resume. Include details that fulfill your brand goals. If you are planning to add your leadership and maturity as personality traits, include experiences and achievements that highlight them. Most MBA Aspirants try to cramp up multiple experiences in the 2-page, expecting the admission team to take note of the diversity of your experience. It is true that diversity of experience improves your admission chances, but don’t overdo it, and avoid the irrelevant ones. Keep it lean and focused.

6) Essays

Most MBA aspirants get it right when it comes to capturing their core qualities in Essays. It is a different issue whether the qualities find any takers. With at least three versions of the essays, successful MBA aspirant will find a winning combination that offers the right mix of authenticity and self-promotion. The resume summarized your personality. The essay should elaborate on each point by articulating the event that culminated in the newfound value or life lesson. There is no one fit Essay for all schools, even if your personal brand is the heart of the essay. Each school has a unique culture, and you have to customize the essay to fit the school’s brand. Instead of writing what the school wants to hear, we recommend an inside-out approach where your core value is intact, and you cite additional values that finally build a brand that is an intersection of your personal and school brand. For hands-on essay writing and editing tips, Download Winning MBA Essay Guide.

7) Recommendation Letter

Your recommender should cite instances where your core values were on full display during a task or a challenge. Most importantly, she should explain why you would be a good fit for the program, by mapping the school’s culture with your personality, through an interesting observation about your working style or your personality. Schools will know that you have coached the recommender about the school culture. There is nothing wrong in that as long as you don’t write the recommendation letter.

8) Interviews

Until now, ‘TEAM YOU’ has carefully planned the personal brand story, with the support of recommenders, and through consistent communication of core values in Social Media and Blogs. Interviews are the first official opportunity for the admissions team to verify you in person, and see whether your story is authentic. If you are re-reading essays, nervously noting down your stories, your ‘polished’ self is what the school knows.

Polishing your essays for readability is an important review step, but if you faked a few stories, inconsistencies would emerge during the conversation. If you have not faked your core values, your authentic self will come across in the conversation. Prepare for commonly asked questions, keeping in mind what core values should be highlighted with each answer. Download our MBA Admission Interview guide to master the process.

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